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Transaction Analysis: Edwin Jackson, Casey Kotchman

The list of quality free agents dwindled further this week, as top (remaining) starter Edwin Jackson agreed to terms with the Washington Nationals, while first baseman Casey Kotchman signed with the Cleveland Indians. Both players inked one-year deals. There are fantasy implications for both, so we'll examine them separately.

Edwin Jackson

Jackson has always been as tantalizing as he is frustrating, so it isn't much of a surprise that he was unable to procure a long-term deal. He has a lot of talent, but doesn't seem quite capable of harnessing it. At the least, he's surrounded by high expectations he can't seem to meet. What does that have to do with your fantasy team? Well, judging by his ADP of just 225.93 and his draft rate of just 21.9%, it looks like most of your fellow owners are underrating him a bit.

Jackson may not be awesome, but he's above-average and he's good for quite a few innings. He's pitched at least 199 innings three years in a row and posted a 3.85 and 4.01 SIERA in each of the past two seasons, respectively. His K/BB has held more or less steady at around 2.30 for three years. In 2010, he put up a 7.78K/9, though his strikeout rate has usually been around 6.7 K/9. Finally, he's still just 29, so there might not be much more room for improvement, but there's plenty of time before we should expect him to decline.

Don't be too hasty to make him your No. 2 or 3 (or even four) starter, though. I certainly think he ought to be drafted (and before the 18th round), but his change of scenery might look better than it is to the untrained eye. The first thing I thought of when I saw that Jackson was joining the Nationals was that at least he was getting a good park to play in. Then I remembered that the Nats don't play in RFK Stadium anymore and that I'd better look up their park factor again. It turns out that Nationals Park plays mostly neutrally at .955 -- only a bit better than the .991 at the White Sox's U.S. Cellular, and worse than New Busch 's .896. Worse news for Jackson and his 31.3 FB% is that Nationals Park makes it into the top one-third of stadiums when it comes to homers allowed, with a factor of 1.110.

At least Jackson gets to stay in the National League, though, right? True, a full season in the weaker league ought to be good for Jackson's rate stats and strikeouts, but the little evidence we have suggests it may not. Don't be completely scared off, as the small-sample caveats apply, but Jackson's 78 NL innings last year saw his strikeout rate drop from 7.2 to 5.9 K/9. His larger body of work isn't very encouraging, either: he has a 6.4 K/9 in the NL, compared to 6.8 in the AL. In short, there isn't much reason to expect Jackson to be anyone other than who he's always been: a pretty good source of innings who would already have the label "above-average innings-eater" if not for his high game-to-game variance, where he might be lights-out or horrible in any given game.

At this point, we should all accept that Jackson isn't going to make that last step and become an ace, or even a near-ace. But that doesn't mean he should be going undrafted in nearly 80% of leagues, as his ADP report from Mock Draft Central indicates. If you can add him to the back half of your rotation this year, go for it.

The non-Jackson fallout of this deal is that the stocks of John Lannan and Chien-Ming Wang take a hit, as Lannan may be on the trading block, and Wang's leash gets shortened. If he's not traded, then the sometimes-useful Lannan would fall into the pen; even if he is traded, there's no way to know how his new situation might impact his value, but he's a fringy enough pitcher that it probably wouldn't be very good.

 Casey Kotchman

Before I begin, I should give some disclosure: I am a Mariners fan, and I lived in Seattle while Kotchman played for the M's. So I'm probably a little biased here. I know, I know things like a .229 BABIP (in 2010) aren't exactly his fault, but I also know that last year's .335 mark wasn't his doing, either. Those two marks were the difference between .217 and .306 averages, which tells me he simply happened to have the two extremes of luck back-to-back.

That difference may be huge, but it's instructive to look at some things that didn't change much -- like home runs. Kotchman was never supposed to be a big power source (one expectation the former prospect has lived up to well), and he gained only one more homer from 2010 to 2011, despite 132 more PA. Accordingly, his ISO dropped slightly, from .118 to .116. His strikeout rate ticked downward and his walk rate upward, but not by much in either case. Basically, he seems to have gotten a tiny bit worse since his Seattle days, and a lot luckier. 

It might be fair to assume Kotchman goes back to somewhere around normal luck, which probably means an average in the .270s or .280s. Unfortunately for the Indians, this is assured of being an empty average, however high it is, as ten (maybe 15) homers and 25 doubles look like his power ceiling. Look elsewhere to fill your 1B slot, as the upside here is low and the downside ... brings back bad memories.

The final impact of Kotchman signing with Cleveland is that Matt LaPorta may be out of a job, and perhaps back to the minors to get everyday playing time. LaPorta's results haven't been good, but he still retains the potential of a post-hype prospect. If he mashes in the minors, or even in spring, it wouldn't be a shock for him to retake first base.


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